What Is Whey Protein?

I am a self-admitted gym bro. Yes, I admit to it. Mondays are my favorite because it’s international bench press day, and yes, I very frequently skip leg day. By my estimation, I only train legs about twice a month. By contrast, I bench press 3 times per week! I know it’s sacrilege nowadays to say that you don’t train legs, but as the Brofessor so aptly says, people who are overly proud about never skipping leg day are the same kind of people who brag about eating food so spicy that their tongue numb for hours and their next trip to the bathroom results in the very infamous and very painful ‘ring of fire’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS-oRydlnCE

I do have other confessions to make: I curl in the squat rack. Yes, I have committed the ultimate sin of the gym, but I should clarify that I only do that when the squat rack is empty and always do the look around to make sure no one else wants to use it. And I do bring my whey protein shake to the gym and I do chug it constantly and annoyingly throughout my workout. In this regard I know I am definitely not alone as I have seen numerous other gym bros chugging their whey protein shakes throughout. I wonder how many of these bros actually know what whey protein is and how it is made? This is what I will be sharing throughout this article.

First, whey protein is a bovine protein, i.e. it comes from cows. The milk proteins derived from cows generally consist of 70% casein and 30% whey. And while there are many other forms of protein that are derived from non-dairy sources such as soy, egg, and rice, these are far inferior as they lack some of the essential amino acids that whey protein contains. Whey protein on the other hand is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the nine essential amino acids in addition to being a great source of branched-chain amino acids (“BCAA”) such as leucine.

Did you know that whey protein is actually a byproduct of the cheese manufacturing process? In the cheese manufacturing process an enzyme is added to the cow’s milk which causes it to separate into its constituent parts, one of which is known as milk curds. These milk curds are what is eventually processed into cheese, however a byproduct of this is whey protein in liquid form. This liquid whey is then pasteurized and then dried into a powder for commercial use. You may have heard of terms such as microfiltration and ion exchange, which refers to various methods for this process.

Microfiltration means that the manufacturers use fine specialty filters in order to strain the protein. Because the size of the pores in the filters are microscopic, it is considered to be able to filter more undesirable elements out, creating a more ‘pure’ protein. In the ion exchange process, the protein is placed into what is known as an ion exchange tower, and using a combination of hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide, the protein is purified. Ions have nothing to do with lasers, but actually chemical components and you probably would understand that if you had paid attention in high school chemistry. Ion exchange is also cheaper and results in a slight denaturing of the protein.

Depending on the method used, the final whey protein product may be broadly classified into three types, concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate. You may have come across these terms when reading the back of your whey protein package and yes, there are big price differences between the three. Generally whey protein concentrate is the cheapest whey protein while hydrolysate is the most expensive.

Whey protein concentrate is typically about 80% protein with the remainder being lactose, fat, minerals and moisture. Because of the high lactose content, those with digestive issues or lactose intolerance are generally encouraged to stay away from whey protein concentrates. Whey protein isolate is 90 to 95% protein and contains negligible amounts of lactose, so it is suitable for lactose intolerant individuals. And finally, whey protein hydrolysate is more ‘broken down’ so to speak and thus is easier for absorption. It is often found in baby formulas and other specialized medical nutrition products although some manufacturers use it in whey protein as well. This is definitely overkill and is usually done just so they can justify charging an absurdly high price.

 Thank you for reading my inaugural blog post, I hope you found the information useful and entertaining at the same time. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think; I hope you will keep reading this site!